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Grandfather With Vitiligo Makes Handmade Dolls To Boost Morale Of Kids With Same Skin Condition

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João Stanganelli Jr. has lived with vitiligo for decades, so it had become just another part of his life and self-image. It wasn’t until he decided to crochet a doll of himself for his granddaughter that he realized he’d need to use patches of lighter-colored yarn amid the flesh-colored strands in order to make the doll match his likeness. Upon gifting the doll to his granddaughter Isabella, he realized he had a business idea.

Amigurumi da Lena is a thriving business thanks to word of mouth across social media, where customers and parents are lauding Stanganelli’s line of crocheted dolls. (The business name is a blend of Japanese and Stanganelli’s native Portuguese; amigurumi is a Japanese portmanteau that roughly translates to “crocheted stuffed toy.”) What began as a way to celebrate those with the skin discoloration has evolved into an inclusive brand where all people find themselves represented.

Retired And Inspired

When Stanganelli began to experience complications from a long term heath condition (unrelated to his vitiligo), he had to cut back on his hours in food and beverage. He was looking for a new hobby in his semi-retirement and his wife suggested taking up crochet. It took some time to get the hang of the stitching — plus the soreness in his back, neck, and hands — but in a matter of days, he became an expert at the craft.

When friends and family caught a glimpse of his dolls, they began spreading the word and he soon had custom orders from parents of children with vitiligo, and even adults who wanted to see themselves represented in Stanganelli’s handiwork. The Brazilian grandpa started to receive custom orders for children with other conditions that are underrepresented in childhood toys. To date, Stanganelli has crafted dolls with alopecia, psoriasis, vision impairments, and mobility impairments. His work has garnered the attention of local chat shows and children’s advocates who have lauded his mission of inclusivity.

Building Self Confidence

Vitiligo affects less than three percent of the population, but those who have the pigment disorder often report feelings of shame, embarrassment, and social isolation as part and parcel. Notable toy makers, such as Mattel and American Girl, have worked to include greater representation in their dolls in recent years, though very few dollmakers include vitiligo in their lineup. Stanganelli has lived with vitiligo, which causes patchy skin discoloration, for nearly 40 years. However, he learned long ago that his self-esteem does not need to suffer because of his skin. As he explained to CTV, “The spots I have are beautiful. What hurts me are the flaws in people’s characters.”

While few would argue that greater representation is important, it turns out that lack of representation — particularly in childhood — can have long-term damaging effects to a child’s sense of belonging. So essential are children’s playthings to a sense of identity, the Anti-Defamation League and other organizations have created lesson plans around dolls for children as young as preschool. The ADL’s Dolls Are Us site explains:

Dolls are one of the first and most common toys for children. They provide a great deal of playing and learning potential including learning about self, dramatic play, putting clothes on and off,  feeding, talking, language development, and nurturing. Because they also provide a reflection of who children are, dolls should include the diversity that is reflected in our society.

Thanks to Joao Stanganelli, more children will be able to see themselves reflected in their toy collections, hopefully bolstering feelings of pride and belonging as they play.

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